The Role of Toxins After TBI

  • Introduction
  • The Glymphatic System
  • Also Consider
  • Resources
  • References


Most of us are aware that toxins can affect healthy brains and cause cognitive slow-down, depression, anxiety, and confusion. We need to be vigilant following a brain injury about everything in our environment.

Whether we are looking to heal a brain injury or prevent brain disease, degenerative disease or cancer, there are many things that we should be considering. In the home, we can switch to natural cleaning products and organic foods, and make sure that we get restorative sleep.

We should try and reduce, minimise, and clear as many sources of toxins as we can and, when we do, our brain has the best environment possible for it to heal in. We address many of the things you can do to improve your brain environment and health, but it is also important to have a think about and be aware of other factors below that may be influencing your ability to recover.

The Glymphatic System

The glymphatic system in the brain. Image credit: University of Rochester Medical Center

The glymphatic system in the brain. Image credit: University of Rochester Medical Center – click for link

Brain injury causes a sudden influx of debris build-up in the brain. As a result, the neural environment becomes toxic, and this can overburden the ‘glymphatic’ system slowing the clearance of waste products from the brain.

This overload adds to the prolongment of symptoms for people across the entire brain injury spectrum exacerbating executive problems with slowed processing, maintaining attention and emotional/behavioural changes. A toxic brain environment increases feelings of lethargy, brain fog and decreases motivation.


PET scans show that more areas of the brain are involved in performing routine activities than before the brain injury using more energy and slowing processing. Many people feel drained by the extra effort and work needed to perform simple tasks and find it difficult to do more than two hours of activity per day.

Sleep problems also increase the prevalence of fatigue and other symptoms because it is during phases of deep restorative sleep that the glymphatic system eliminates toxins and waste and healing mechanisms are activated. Vitamin D plays a crucial role in sleep and research shows that reserves can be depleted by as much as 50% in the first 24 hours after a brain injury.

There is often a failure for doctors to perform blood tests at any time post-injury and very few people are given nutritional advice.

It is possible a vicious circle develops where the brain is hungry for nutrients because it is working harder and is also trying to help eliminate waste. When the removal of dead/dying cells is slowed there are greater physiological problems in reducing inflammation. 

These links may mean that people with healthier diets and lifestyles recover from brain injury more quickly because their body has higher reserves of essential nutrients.

Also consider

  • Energy – The brain consumes approximately 30 per cent of our caloric intake. If most of the food we eat consists of ‘empty calories,’ or is processed food filled with additives, trans fats and sugars, the brain won’t be getting the energy it needs to function – even at a ‘normal’ level. The brain is working way harder following injury and needs a slot more support.
  • Hydration – About 70 per cent of the brain is composed of water. Water is a major component of the human body, and nearly every biological function requires water. If the brain’s cells are not properly hydrated, cognitive function declines. We also need water to help us flush toxins from the brain and body.
  • Toxins –High blood flow to the brain makes it one of the first organs to be affected by toxins in the bloodstream. Any condition that impairs the filtering of toxins out of the blood encourages brain fog and other neurological symptoms in healthy people. Toxins exacerbate brain injury symptoms and outcomes.


NIH – Brain may flush out toxins during sleep

Eureka Alert – To sleep, perchance to clean

Cell Metabolism – Inflammation

NCBI – The Glymphatic System – A Beginner’s Guide

Science Daily – Brain Cells responsible for removing damaged neurons after injury identified